Speedier process is needed for pine beetles

While pine beetles that have ravaged large chunks of Colorado’s high-country forests move relatively quickly, it’s safe to say that the bureaucratic process employed to battle the beetles moves at a snail’s pace.

According to one witness at a congressional field hearing on beetle problems that was held in Montrose Monday, it can take up to 18 months to conduct the environmental studies that are required before a timber cut to eliminate diseased trees can be approved.

Problem is, “The beetles move faster than 18 months,” said Nancy Fishering, vice president of the Colorado Timber Association.

We’re not here to argue there should be no examination of the potential environmental impact of timber harvests just because pine beetles are involved. But, good grief! What good does it do to spend a year and a half studying the potential impacts of cutting out diseased trees to protect neighboring healthy trees when there’s a large chance the healthy trees will already be under attack from the beetles by the time the environmental studies are completed?

Several speakers made similar points during Monday’s hearing before two House subcommittees of the Natural Resources Committee. The hearing was held at the behest of Colorado’s 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton, who is a member of the committee.

The bureaucratic and environmental processes involved with treating pine beetles take too long, regulations are often contradictory and competing federal agencies create further obstacles to the treatment effort, various witnesses said.

That certainly seems to be the case. Add Congress to the list of obstacles.

For more than a decade, we’ve watched local and state officials, along with members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, plead with the U.S. Forest Service, congressional budget writers and others to be more proactive in using timber cuts to reduce the damage and fire threats pine beetles are causing in the state’s forests.

But constrained budgets, challenges by environmentalists and the slow-moving bureacracy have presented serious obstacles to the forest-wide efforts that are needed.

At the very least, the Forest Service, with congressional approval, needs to reduce the 18-month review period for timber harvests in beetle-kill areas to something more practical.


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